25 fishermen from Kerala and Tamil Nadu are stuck in Masirah, a remote island in the Arabian Sea near Oman coast, without food, drinking water, medicine, job and salary since April.
They had gone for a fishing job on a three-week valid Express Visa to Masirah by the sea in four boats from Porbandar in Gujarat during the last week of March.
The Express Visa is generally used by those who are going to conferences. This visa allows a stay of 21 days maximum from the date of entry and cannot be renewed. In case of exceeding this duration, the traveller is liable to a fine of Rs 2000 for the expiry of the visa.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 outbreak in March and the pandemic induced lockdowns have trapped them in the island since then, without an idea on their return.
“We are not getting an opportunity to go fishing. We are not getting fuel from the sponsor. Eventually, as there is no fishing, we are not getting a salary and even food supplies,” Previn Silvadasan, a stranded fisherman told The Lede over the phone from Masirah island.
“Once in a while, the employer, who is an Indian, will come and give us a little food. We don’t know whom to approach and what to do to return home. We don’t even know where the Indian embassy is to lodge a complaint,” Pervin added.
Pervin and his friends had gone to Masirah by boat, and last week, one of the boats had caught fire in Masirah waters due to short-circuit. The captain of the boat, a Keralite, had suffered serious burns. He was sent back on medical grounds and has been hospitalised in Thiruvananthapuram.
“Even our families are in a dire situation. Many are on the verge of committing suicide. COVID-19 has broken our families too. Back home, our women are unable to go for fish sales. And our brothers are also not getting a good fish catch. The COVID-19 restrictions had made life like hell on the southern Kerala coast. Additionally, we are stuck here without food and money,” Pervin added.
Meanwhile, talking to The Lede, the Indian employer in Oman said that “very soon” the fishermen will be sent back to India.
“We had brought them here in hope of doing business. But COVID-19 derailed our plans. We couldn’t even process their job visas. In about seven days, we will be able to repatriate all back home,” the employer said.
Talking to The Lede, Hubertson Tom Wilson, a migrant rights activist and advocate, said that even after repeated advice, fishermen still take the risk to migrate to unknown territories on non-job visas.
“As they migrate on such non-job visas, it is quite hard to get their workers’ rights respected too. And when they land in trouble, their repatriation also becomes complicated. Here in this fishermen’s case, they may have to pay a fine for overstaying in the island,” Hubertson said, adding that their return would not be that easy.
However, he added that the Indian employer in Oman should help the stranded fishermen to make use of the amnesty scheme, which will come into effect from November 15 and run till December 31.
Amnesty is a scheme announced periodically in Arab Gulf countries allowing overstaying and undocumented workers to leave the country without paying any fine for overstaying and being undocumented.
Last week, considering the COVID-19 pandemic situation, Oman’s Ministry of Labour has allowed migrant workers who plan on permanently leaving the country between November 15 and December 31, 2020, to not pay any fines.
Recently, some 1400 Indian fishermen stranded on the Iran coast since February could come back only in phases during the last week of June.
COVID-19 had trapped them on the island without jobs and food. It was The Lede that had told their stories first in February upon which the Ministry of Indian External Affairs and Iranian government acted.
Fishermen from south India often migrate to Arab Gulf countries on different visas and engage in fishing. Most often, they get duped by their employer and also get caught by the Iranian coast guard for straying into their territorial waters.
In 2018 itself, all Indian migrants had been advised not to take up fishing jobs on trawlers or vessels leaving Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain, and moving towards Iran, by the government of India.
In a special advisory released by the Protector General of Emigrants then, all registered recruitment agents and Protector of Emigrants offices in India were advised not to process any applications from potential migrants who are looking for jobs on fishing vessels in the three countries, which may move towards Iran.
However, the Indian fishermen continue to migrate to troubled waters of the Arab Gulf for fishing, and either get arrested by police or fall prey to employers’ duping.